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March 21, 2013

Obama says he's not giving up on Mideast peace

(Continued)

RAMALLAH, West Bank —

On Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel's security and noted there had been no fatal attacks on Israelis from the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas.

That calm has not extended to Gaza, which is run by the militant Islamic Hamas movement. As Obama began his program Thursday, Israeli police said militants in Gaza had fired two rockets at the southern town of Sderot.

One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a house in Sderot early in the morning, causing damage but no injuries, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The other landed in an open field. Sirens wailed in Sderot shortly after the 7 a.m. rocket attack, forcing residents on their way to work or school to run to bomb shelters.

Obama condemned the action during his news conference with Abbas. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited the border town, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, prompting Israel, with considerable U.S. assistance, to develop its Iron Dome missile defense system, which it credits with intercepting hundreds of rockets.

Immediately after his arrival in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured an Iron Dome battery at Ben Gurion International Airport in a vivid display of U.S. security assistance to Israel.

In Jerusalem earlier Thursday, while examining the Dead Sea Scrolls and during a tour of a high tech exhibit, Obama and Netanyahu continued the easy banter that the two leaders displayed on Wednesday. As Netanyahu read a facsimile of a scroll, Obama marveled that the Hebrew language had not changed much over the centuries.

___

Lee reported from Jerusalem. Karin Laub in Ramallah and Ian Deitch and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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